Each year for the past 30 years, the historic W. A. Young and Sons Foundry and Machine Shop comes back to life the third Saturday in April with the banging of blacksmith hammers along Water Street in Rices Landing in Greene County.
William Alies Young opened the foundry back in 1900, and for 70 years the shop served the changing needs of area residents and regional business. It its early years, the foundry supported the local steamboat industry. Later, it bridged the gap between consumer needs and jobs deemed too unprofitable for newer, larger commercial shops.
Eventually, the owners closed the doors in 1969 due to lack of business. After sitting idle for more than a decade, Jim Campbell, a member of the Pittsburgh Area Artists Blacksmith Association, George Kelly, a Waynesburg mechanic, Murray Kline, a local historian, and Farley Toothman, a Greene County judge, recognized its importance and reopened it as a historic repository of machinery of the Industrial Era.
In 1985, the Greene County Historical Society purchased the site to ensure its preservation. Three years later, the first Hammer-In brought area blacksmiths in to demonstrate to the public how unique this building — recognized last year by the U.S. Department of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark — really is.
Like the Hammer-In has for the past 29 years, this year’s event, scheduled from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 21, will feature hammer-on-anvil demonstrations, guided tours of the foundry and its still-working machinery and auctions of hand crafted items the smiths bring with them.
“We’ll also auction off items from the foundry like well-used pulleys and ropes that folks seem to like,” said George “Bly” Blystone, a foundry volunteer for at least the past 20 years.
The auction will begin at 1 p.m. and will be followed by an aluminum pouring demonstration courtesy of the Rivers of Steel Arts.
As many as 10 working blacksmiths from the Pittsburgh Area Artists Blacksmith Association and the Appalachian Blacksmith Association are expected to attend the Hammer-In, which is free and open to the public. Part of the contingent will include Wayne Kelley, Marty Zueger, Ed Applebee and Terry Viviani of the Fort Allen Blacksmith Team.
To the delight of the crowd, they will pound out items like ornamental hooks and trivets and elements for railings, doors and gates, much of which will be offered for sale.
During the Hammer-In — described as a celebration of traditional blacksmithing practices — visitors, including youngsters, will be able to try their own hand at the craft. Throughout the day, Blystone will turn on the machines and walk visitors through the foundry. Those who get hungry during the event can purchase refreshments like hot dogs, hamburgers, salads, baked goods and coffee sold by Boy Scout Troop 1168 of Rices Landing.
In 2009, Rivers of Steel, which now sponsors the Hammer-Ins, took over stewardship of the property, and addressed restoration needs, including replacing the roof and stabilizing the foundation.
The Rivers of Steel Heritage Corporation is a non-profit that manages the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, an eight-county region and one of 49 such organizations designated by Congress. Its mission, in partnership with the National Parks Service, is to conserve the industrial, cultural, natural and recreational resources of southwestern Pennsylvania.
“Last year, Rivers of Steel spent $100,000 to restore the light well in the center of the foundry,” Blystone said. “It included installing new siding and flashing, and the work was just completed on April 6 in time for Hammer-In. The tower is good for getting light throughout the building, but bad as far as water getting in and rotting the wood.”
In previous years, Rivers of Steel improved the front of the building by pouring a new concrete footer and replacing warped siding and windows. In 2002, the organization also put on a new roof to protect the historic structure.
In the weeks following the Hammer-In, the foundry will be open to the public free of charge from noon to 4 p.m. every Sunday through November. Both Blystone and another volunteer, Gary Shriver, will lead tours and power on the machinery, and young blacksmiths from Crucible just learning the trade will be on hand to give demonstrations.
“Our annual Hammer-In is fun for the entire family,” Blystone said. “Each year, public interest has grown, and we are hoping for a big crowd again this year on April 21.”
For more information, call Blystone at 724-710-4898.